IAIN TWIDDY studied literature at university and lived for several years in northern Japan. He has poems published or forthcoming in The Poetry Review, Stand, Poetry Ireland Review, The Blue Mountain Review, The Stinging Fly and elsewhere.
FRED JOHNSTON was born in Belfast in 1951. Novelist, short story writer, and poet, work has appeared in Scotland in Gairfish, Cencrastus, The Edinburgh Review and Chapman and read some years ago at the arts festival in Nairn. Recent poems have appeared in The New Statesman, The Spectator, as a Poem of The Week in The Guardian. Most recent collection of poems is Rogue States (Salmon, 2019.) Johnston also founded Galway city’s annual literature festival, Cuirt, in 1986 and currently lives in Galway, Ireland.
SIÚN CARDEN is from County Down and lives in Shetland, where she works as a research fellow in the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Centre for Rural Creativity. Her poems have appeared in Magma, The Tangerine, Northwords Now and The New Shetlander.
The tank juddered like a storm or a captured
waterfall, the taps so bronze, so polished
that the bathroom seemed the treasure chest of the house,
its own gorgeous, indulgent yawning awake,
their affluent mouths clearly savouring
what chugged and frothed less like water than light
running its full, buoyant scale from high-pitched licks
to ponderous, pebble-drop, gluppy comfort.
One end of the bath felt like a baptismal
scoop, its body more solid than the walls,
the mat like a napkin in case it got sloppy;
the mirror would blush like the powder puff
we stole in to her dresser to dabble with,
the scents crystallise like long-stopped perfume
when, amidst the twisted-off gasp and trickle,
like a subsiding sigh, the door hushed shut.
There, backdropped by the misted-out city,
she must have moved over the water’s soft skin
like a goddess on the face of the deep, the steam
unleashed like silent yelps only just now
it seems, sniffing me, welcomely, out.
I could up and live in Scotland,
settle deep in the fleecy clouds,
walk the burn-run, ash-fanned pastures,
and frown like the brow of a hill
at the brawl of weather angling
– like a legion of angels – in,
at the silver light like a pike
taking the skewy line with it;
I could go and live openly there,
instinct as a new-born animal,
hold to the crag-crack world as firmly
as a grip to the smooth of a crook,
feel the past gill me as free of care
as dawn through the bars of a gate,
and the heart slow to the pace, wide
and anchoring, of the tide, filling
then voiding the mouth of the sound,
horizon-wide my indifference,
as shit-kicking, chew-strewn, my gaze
as the wind grizzling a sheep field;
I could live as thinly as moon
pailing out on the loch, attest
to stars barbing on, protective,
not as before, gashing like twigs in spring;
I could let the rain dreep out love
like summer’s ebbing coal, let cloud
smother out the mirage of ambition,
bone-cold so reshape the mind
that peaty chimney bricks build more
than stacks of books abandoned,
and the pen lift like the flimsy latch
as hands-on, living things flocked in.
But I mean, who am I kidding;
I would live there as much as here,
blunted, nubbed and quartered, umbraged
by a skull roof like an earmarked tree,
like a tutted-at, unchecked mole,
an unthrown pebble on a shore,
the bud of a tick embedded
in a cloud-sullen woollen jumper.
These were the days of single-bar heaters
Single beds narrow as hammocks
Where love of a sort could be slung between
Warm beer and a borrowed cigarette
And porn, so light it rose to the top shelves under its own steam
For all that it came muzzled tight in cellophane –
Condoms hard to come by, took on pre-cambrian worm-shape
In the fossil cliffness of the back-pocket of a pair of jeans,
Relegated, drying out, raised by the archaeology
Of washing days.
Time was of the essence.
The house had its own ghost.
Were you there? I expect it’s where we met.
Men slacken in the steam room and talk of those let go.
Any given Monday you could clear out half the crew
with some test or other. So they don’t.
One worked South, a nuclear place
where guys were caught with synthesized urine
from Amazon. It comes with all the plumbing
and instructions, how to strap it to your leg.
Under our polypropylene canopy
we catch hot drips from twinkling LEDs.
A voice comes out of the piped-in mist.
Once you’re there mate,
once you’re warming artificial piss,
time to hand your cards in. Disappear.
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